An Unofficial Plebiscite


BERLIN/BARCELONA (Own report) - The German establishment is sending mixed signals in reaction to the announcement of an unofficial plebiscite on Catalonia's secession from Spain. Catalan Prime Minister Artur Mas has declared the September 27 regional elections a de facto plebiscite on the region's secession. Should his alliance secure the absolute majority, he will proclaim independence from Spain within 8 months. In the past, Germany had repeatedly supported Catalan secession. Influential German think tanks are demanding that secession not be obstructed. However, there is opposition rising from within business circles. Catalonia is a central site for German companies in Spain. Engaged in trade throughout Spain, they do not want to see their business possibilities limited to one region and Barcelona's secession from Madrid could possibly prove an obstacle. According to German government advisors, on the other hand, these problems could be solved. Some economists contend that the EU's currency, the Euro, can, in the long run, only be maintained within a uniform economic area. This would exclude Spain, but include a seceded Catalonia, the strongest economic zone on the Iberian Peninsular.

The Election as a Referendum

Artur Mas, Prime Minister of Spain's autonomous community of Catalonia, declared Catalonia's September 27, regional elections to be an unofficial plebiscite on the province's secession from Spain. "This date will go down in the history of Catalonia," predicted Mas at the beginning of the week, referring to the voting. This will far surpass an ordinary election, because the unified slate comprised of Mas' governing Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC) and the leftwing Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) have sworn to declare Catalonia's unilateral independence from Spain, within eight months, should they receive more than 50 percent of the votes. In the Catalan establishment, this commitment is rather controversial, causing a rearrangement in the spectrum of political parties. The Christian democratic Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (UDC), which had been a long-standing alliance partner with the CDC, has now left this Convergència i Unió (CiU) alliance, because it is opposed to unilateral secession. Recent polls show the unified slate slightly lagging behind. However, given the support of prominent personalities - such as the soccer star, Pep Guardiola (currently with Bayern München) - it would not be surprising if they successfully bypass their rivals.

A Feast for Separatists

The German establishment has been sending mixed signals recently in response to Catalonia's planned secession. In the past, the Federal Republic of Germany has systematically promoted Catalan separatism. For example, Catalonia was received as "guest of honor" - unprecedented for a region - at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2007, a symbolically highly effective gesture, and a feast for secessionists. ( reported.[1]) Two years ago, the German Chancellery-financed Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) publicly put into question Spain's territorial integrity. According to the SWP paper, the EU could "reach the point, where a negotiated separation is more preferable than a situation of permanent instability."[2] Last year the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) seconded this opinion in a brief analysis. Even if Catalonia's secession could engender problems, this does not mean that the region "should forever remain a part of Spain," according to the DGAP analysis. Madrid "should work toward an agreement" that "accommodates the new state."[3] Support for secessionists corresponds to an old German foreign policy tradition of seeking to weaken potential rival nations, even without hesitating to use ethnic chauvinism to destroy their territorial cohesion.[4]

Spain's Economic Powerhouse

However, last year contrary views were also being heard. This is because of Catalonia's economic significance. The Region makes up only 6.3 percent of Spain's territory and a mere 16.1 percent of Spain's population, however it accounts for 19 percent of the country's GDP, and 26 percent of its exports. Germany imports 11.5 percent of Catalonia's exports and supplies 17.3 percent of its imports, becoming thereby, the most important trade partner and primary supplier of the region. Altogether, about 5,600 foreign companies have invested in Catalonia, which amounts to around 25 percent of all foreign direct investments in Spain. 18 percent of these are from Germany and France, who share first place, even though Germany has a slight lead.[5] Catalonia, Spain's economic powerhouse, maintains particularly strong economic ties to Germany. This is also due to the cooperation program "Four Motors for Europe." Established in 1988 on the initiative of Germany's state of Baden Wurttemberg, it has intensified economic cooperation. Four economically prosperous regions of four EU member countries are cooperating in this program - alongside Baden Wurttemberg, Rhone-Alpes (France), the Lombardy (Italy) and Catalonia.[6]

Spain's Market

Therefore, in Spain, Catalonia has a particular significance for German enterprises, also because it is part of the Spanish market. German companies "came to Catalonia for a market of 40 million Spaniards, not merely for the seven million Catalans," Andrés Gómez, Chair of the Barcelona-based Circle of German-Speaking Executives (kdf) was quoted saying at the beginning of 2014.[7] Kdf members are executives in Spain from business, politics and culture, including a Thyssen manager, a former German ambassador to Spain and a staff member of the Fundación Bertelsmann. In early 2014, predominantly German initiators had also published a "Barcelona Declaration" explicitly warning against the "devastating consequences" of secession. If the region secedes from Spain, it will no longer be an EU member, will no longer be able to trade freely with EU member nations and may be forced to give up the Euro, according to reasoning behind this admonition. The declaration's signers included Gerhard Esser, former Thyssen manager and Erwin Rauhe, Vice President of BASF-Spain.

Competition in Economic Policy

Government advisors see these difficulties as resolvable. Following secession, it simply must be attempted, using flexible means, "to, at least, avoid the formation of impermeable borders, for example for freight traffic or the four freedoms of the [EU's] Single Market," according to an analysis published by the SWP. The question whether Catalonia may continue to use the Euro, should also be flexibly approached.[8] Economists are adding more arguments in favor of secession. Secession would reinforce "the competition in economic policy" and should therefore be supported, explained, last fall, Roland Vaubel, professor of economics in Mannheim and a member of the German Ministry of the Economy's Academic Advisory Board. Besides, "today's European nations," are simply "the results of centuries and millennia of despotism and force," Vaubel continues, "the right of secession" is therefore " ultimately necessary to establish political units corresponding to the citizens' wishes."[9]

A Uniform Economic Culture

Alongside Vaubel, the economic historian, Werner Abelshauser, proposes a concept depicting Germany's long-term advantages from Catalonia's secession. Abelshauser declared that in Central Europe, there is "a relatively uniform economic culture." "For centuries, from Scandinavia to Northern Italy and from the Seine to the Oder, it has evolved through concentrated markets." This "economic culture" has been sustainably characterized by "the way of thinking and acting, the rules of the game and types of organization, constituting the social system of production." For example, their "working relations" are "cooperative," whereas elsewhere - particularly in Southern Europe - they are "conflict oriented." In times of crisis, this creates problems with a common currency.[10] Abelshauser is, therefore, in favor of maintaining only those EU regions within the common currency, that show evidence of "a relatively uniform economic culture." As the "Four Motors for Europe" demonstrate, along with Northern Italy (Lombardy), Catalonia could possibly join such a currency region - under the condition, it is no longer part of Spain.

For more information on this topic: Language Struggle, Ethnic Europe, The German Ethnic Model (IV), Borderland Networks, and The Federal State - A Loss-Making Business (II).

[1] See Language Struggle and Ethnic Europe.
[2] Kai-Olaf Lang: Katalonien auf dem Weg in die Unabhängigkeit? Der Schlüssel liegt in Madrid. SWP-Aktuell 50, August 2013.
[3] Cale Salih: Catalonia's Separatist Swell. DGAPkompakt No 12, October 2014.
[4] See Minderheitenrechte, Der Zentralstaat als Minusgeschäft and Hintergrundbericht: Die Föderalistische Union Europäischer Volksgruppen.
[5] Katalonien zeigt sich dynamisch und generiert einen Mehrwert für die europäische Wirtschaft. 14.05.2014.
[6] See The Federal State - A Loss-Making Business (II).
[7] Karin Finkenzeller: Der Preis der Freiheit. 16.06.2014.
[8] Susanne Gratius, Kai-Olaf Lang: Das katalanische Labyrinth. SWP-Aktuell 5, Januar 2015.
[9] Roland Vaubel: Katalonien und das Recht auf Sezession. Oktober 2014. Regarding Vaubel see Brüche im Establishment (II).
[10] Werner Abelshauser: Politische Union bedroht deutsche Wirtschaftsinteressen. 22.07.2012. "Bruchstellen auch mit Milliarden nicht zu kitten". Westfalen-Blatt 14.07.2012. See Wirtschaftskulturen.